*Warning has graphic imagery *
He rubbed his palm to relieve the pain, the right hand had seized up again. He clumsily massaged his, the pain was becoming unbearable. He had already taken tablets for the agony; they had done little to numb the sharpness or ache. It was always sudden, like a jolt followed by a constant throbbing that reached from his inner hand, along the palm up to his elbow. He now felt the headache, the hand had stirred an agony which had slithered up his neck up inside of his skull. Perhaps the noise did not help either.
“Nick, they are bringing us more”
He nodded back at his friend George. Though younger George seemed be in far worse pain than him. Nick walked to the younger man and handed him the small metal flask, George smiled before he sipped down the bitter juice it tasted horrible. Vodka, whiskey and anti-freeze.
Two officers pushed a handful of crying women into the room, they trembled as they wept. One collapsed before Nick, the blood from others had caused her to slip onto the cement. The drains were doing little to evacuate the crimson drool. Brain matter and bone fragments did not help either.
A woman, otherwise attractive looked up to Nick, she bargained, she promised him her body if he spared her.
“I am married” He pressed his pistol to her forehead and pulled the trigger, the sharp pain lead the ache and throbbing up his arm into his head. Even if he could spare her, another would replace him.
George finished his woman also. The other officers dragged the still kicking bodies away, it would be their turns to pull the trigger soon. An elderly woman, her grey hair darkened by the filth of her tears and spit. She smelt like vomit; Nick could smell her over the putrid death of the cement basement.
“I told them nothing and I will tell you nothing” She spat.
Nick did not care; he pulled the trigger. A large hole punched her head open, her defiant eyes parted. Nick watched on as she splashed into the pool of blood. To his left he saw George struggle with his pistol, beneath him a teenage girl wobbled in anguish. George swapped his pistol to the other hand, he pulled the trigger the bullet bounced on the side of the teenagers skull, she screamed. Nick finished her off.
“Ask the Major if it is time to swap yet?” Nick asked the officers by the door.
“My hands have not recovered” came the reply.
“I can’t hold the pistol, we have been doing this all week, ten hours at a time. Surely we have run out of criminals” George pushed his pistol back into its holster as he watched the others drag the teenage girl away. A bald officer handed George a fresh bottle of vodka. George gulped it down, he had finished off numerous bottles this week.
“The interrogations are inconclusive” The bald officer said as he dragged two more women into the room.
“Where are the men?” George asked as he pushed his pistol into the brow of another young woman.
Nick pulled the trigger, “they go to labour camps before they are processed”
“Efficient” George admired.
“Why are they always so filthy?” George asked his words slurring. The officers dragged the last of the bodies from them. Twelve hours, thirty pistols, they kept seizing and countless magazines. The foreheads were all a blurry mess.
George and Nick walked to the showers; passing the rivers of red that filled the troughs and drained from pipes lodged inside the concrete walls. The pair ignored the smell and steady flow of blood. Once inside the showers they slowly removed their uniform. The plastic butchers’ aprons had done little to shield them from the blood and matter. Clumps of soggy bone shards stuck to their skin and into their clothing. The laundry teams would be busy again. Nick entered his shower cubicle; the water fell out in broken streams. It was cold.
He began to dry himself when George leaned against his cubicle, he was already dressed, “We at least have a paying job”
Nick nodded as he continued to dress.
“We will be rewarded for what we do” George stated but inside a question lingered.
Nick now dressed into his private clothing, patted George onto the shoulder, “Go home. I will do the paperwork”
It took Nick an hour to finish the paperwork. The Major reminded those still in the officer that They were good citizens and heroic. Nick had read such words on posters. Nick walked the cold streets and climbed into a street tram. He sat in silence as he watched the civilians clamour around him on. The buildings were washed in grey, he looked at them as they slowly passed. Nick gazed at the remaining of a playground that had been stripped bare a decade earlier during the war of patriotic victory. Now it was a concrete reminder of sacrifice.
No one spoke, Nick did not want them to know that he was an officer for the State but perhaps his expression concerned them. Nick paid little mind to it. He tried not to look at any of them. He did not want to make a connection, he had to make such sacrifices. For them. Each of them was secure because of a man like him, doing the unthinkable. He also did not wish to see them, outside living and smiling because one day they may be on their knees before him in the basement.
Nick began to cough. Something was lodged in his throat; it had gone from his nose down into his neck and now caused him discomfort. An old lady slid into the seat alongside of him, she held his shoulders and helped him to better breath. The coughing hurt; tears welled in his eyes as he struggled for air. Those on the car all watched him struggle. The old lady pressed a napkin to his lips and massaged his back, “straighten up and cough hard once”.
Nick obeyed. A shard of bone pushed from his throat and into her napkin. She showed it to him.
“You are lucky to have had fish for lunch, I have not seen a fish for a long time” She warmly rubbed his back one last time.
She handed him a bottle with water in it, Nick drank from it in measured sips. He nodded and then smiled, “Thank you, Thank you” he said to her.
“You would have done the same for me” She smiled before returning to her seat. It was his stop, Nick left the streetcar and thanked her once again. He walked to his apartment. It had been taken from a banker’s brother. Nick entered; his body throbbed painfully.
“You are home late again” his wife Freda said as she welcomed him.
“You look tired” She removed his coat.
“Yes, I am”
“I have made food; it is not much. Eat and then sleep” Freda led Nick to the table. There was little furniture. Excess was criminal. Nick ate the food carefully, his wife helped him in the end. His hands hurt too much.
“Will you lay down while I clean up” Freda kissed his head.
Nick collapsed into the bed; it was uncomfortable. The springs pushed into his back, but it was better than those who had only newspaper in a burlap sack. He had seen enough bedrooms to know he had it better than most. Nick had slipped into a light sleep. He woke to his wife rubbing his hand.
“Will it be the same tomorrow?”
“Yes” Nick kept his eyes shut. He could still see the faces; they all had merged into one. But the pain from the trigger pull was constant.
“Do you know how many?” Freda asked.
“Please, don’t talk about it”
“We must” She insisted.
“No, it is criminal to do so” Nick opened his eyes.
“And ten years ago, to do it was wrong to do it, now it is wrong to discuss doing it?” Freda stopped rubbing his hands.
“We are lucky, you do not know how lucky you have it!” Nick sat up.
“Death is not the worse thing” Freda took his hand began to rub it again.
“Yes, I know that there are worse things, believe me I have seen them”
“Is this the utopia we were promised?”
“It is always just one more bullet until we reach it?” Freda pushed harder into his inner wrist; Nick writhed.
“I don’t know”
“Is this the dream? Kill those who disagree? Kill those who think differently?” Freda asked as she held his hand hard.
“Such words are dangerous, you must stop.”
“And what if I do not stop? What if I ask them outside in the street?” Freda stopped rubbing; she studied her husband’s face.
“I don’t know”
“Yes, you do. You know that one of your comrades…”
Nick grabbed her hand and pulled her to him, his hold was tight, “will you stop!”
“I will sleep on the floor; you can have the bed. You will need to rest, after all you are helping build utopia in the morning.”
“Please don’t go” Nick turned towards her as she paused.
“I have nowhere to go, I am a prisoner.”
Nick watched her leave the room. He lay in the bed for an hour, slowly he walked to the kitchen, there he found her laying on the vinyl floor. A dress rolled up as a pillow and a bag as a blanket. He lifted her up and carried her to the bed, slowly putting her onto it. She was exhausted. He kissed her forehead, “I love you” he whispered. They had utopia, together years ago.
He slept in the wooden chair that he ate his meals from.
Nick had been in a fog for most of the morning, he did not speak to his wife. The breakfast was a little salt on a boiled potato. The journey in was forgetful. George was tired also. He dressed into his uniform and followed his colleagues into the briefing room.
“There is a rumour of a plot to overthrow the government”
Nick listened; such rumours were not new.
The major continued with a briefing sheet in front of him, “it seems that many are willing to betray the dream and like murdering cowards will topple the revolution. They must be stopped. We all must be vigilant and report anything, anything that is dissenting. A friend, a neighbour, a sister, cousin, wife anyone can be a traitor.”
Nick peered around the room, he felt uneasy. New faces filled into the room, officers that he had not seen before. The major ignored them as the new officers circulated among the others and began to ask each questions. A thin faced man sat alongside Nick.
Nick offered the correct answers. The thin faced officer narrowed his eyes briefly, “Do you know where you wife is at this time?”
Nick adjusted his posture, “Yes, she is at home.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, I left her there earlier” Nick wanted to believe that Freda was still there.
“Does she express any dangerous views?”
“No, she has no political opinions” Nick answered, he felt his stomach turn.
“She does not discuss things with you?” The thin faced officer’s face remained expressionless.
“Does she read books of a particular theme?”
“No she does not read” Nick lied.
“What does she do all day?”
Nick considered the answer, many replies could lead down to a dangerous path, “Sleep mostly lately she has been unwell with headaches.”
“Here is my card comrade, you can contact me at this number. Ask for Peter” Nick shook hands with Peter as he and the other officers left the large briefing room.
Nick walked to the basement; his stomach churned. He felt sick. George welcomed him; he was already drunk. His pistol was out and ready for the mornings work. Nick could not stop his hands from trembling. He took in a deep breath of the putrid air. Even though it was chilled in the depths of the buildings belly, the stench of rot was seeping up the drains.
What have you done you stupid bitch, how could you Freda?
A grey woman hobbled before Nick, she shied away from him and the pistol that now hang inside of his wobbling hand. She had surrendered to her fate, perhaps her age had withered away any desire to live.
Nick pressed the pistol to the side of her head and fired. The pain was less than it had been yesterday. The massage from Freda had eased some of his agony.
The officers were perhaps fishing for information. They were doing what he had done countless times. He knew that. Why was he so concerned? She was careful. She was only venting to him. No one else. His mind pulled back control, the blood from the grey woman gushed from the holes in her head.
“Do you remember when a doctor would check each one after we fired?” George laughed.
“I had forgotten” It had been too long; things had changed and now this routine was all he knew. Nick adjusted the plastic apron as another pair entered the basement. For a moment he reminded himself that hundreds if not thousands of basements were being operated at this time, his was no exception. What he did was duty. He would be rewarded for the sacrifice. The sacrifice was the reward. He did this so that Freda could be safe.
Another pair of old women, Nick looked at his as she turned up to lock eyes with him. He recognised her.
“No fish for lunch today?” She asked.
Nick wanted to say something, he pressed the pistols barrel to her forehead. She closed her eyes, “I forgive you.”
Nick pulled the trigger; the woman fell forwards over herself. Her blood pooled fast across his boots. Nick remained still; he watched her body move into a less awkward position. A moment later the other officers dragged her to her final resting place.
“Where do they take them?” George asked.
The bald officer returned ready to remove another body, “to a furnace.”
“I heard that we use them for fertiliser” another officer added. A moment later two old men entered, they wept as they were pushed to their knees. Nick pulled the trigger, the men fell.
“I hear that the Japanese chop prisoners heads off with a sword” George said his drunken state had lifted his spirits.
“Butchers” Nick answered as he readjusted his blood smeared plastic apron.
Nick returned home; his wife had left his dinner on the table. He felt a relief when he saw her. She did not speak to him. He wanted to hug her, to kiss her to thank her for being alive. Instead he ate in silence. The food was cold and tasteless. He had the last of the salt last night. It was being rationed. So was everything else.
He fell asleep in the chair, a bottle of watered-down vodka in his hands. The next day at work felt uneasy. New faces were rushing in an out, the energy seemed frightful.
“Did you not hear?” George asked,
“A counter revolution has begun” George rushed to the armoury. Both men were handed sub machine guns.
“Who do we fight?” George asked. The Major did not know how to answer, the news had been patchy. The officers were led outside of the building, they piled into lorries and roamed the streets. They were empty. A battle could be heard in the distance.
“We are not soldiers!” George stated as the truck stopped.
“Out, you must hold this district, make sure all obey the curfew. Shoot the counter revolutionaries” the major returned to the truck as it turned slowly in the streets intersection.
“What do they look like comrade Major?”
“Good luck” The truck took the major away from them as the officers checked their weapons. Nick thought about Freda as he rested the sub machine gun in his hands, he stood close to a wall watching and waiting. George paced in the middle of the street. Behind him other officers sat and waited for new orders.
A crack exploded; George fell. Another followed, George’s body lifted for a moment as it lay on the road. He then stayed still. An officer fired his sub machine gun down the street, Nick could see nothing but an empty street. Another rifle crack erupted again killing the officer. Nick hid close to the wall. He waited for the others to join him, but more gunshots forced them to the other side of the street.
“They have tanks!” one of the hiding officers yelled. Nick looked around the corner and saw the slowly approaching tanks crawl towards them, behind them soldiers and armed men in civilian clothing. All had white arm bands. The Counter Revolutionaries.
“Run, we have no chance of stopping them!” Nick was the first to flee. He did not run back to the headquarters, instead he ran home. It was dark, the grey sunset had engulfed the city by the time that he had reached his apartment block. He could hear the thumping of battle near, explosions erupting, machine gun chatter and the menace of aircraft above.
“Freda!” The apartment was empty. Nick ran back down outside, he tugged at his uniform; he quickly ran back up. He tore his uniform off and hid it inside the wardrobe. He changed into civilian clothing. As he returned to the street a carload of armed men stopped him.
“Where did you find that gun?” One asked.
“I took it from a police officer” Nick answered.
They laughed and sped away. Nick felt his stomach churn. He continued to look for Freda. The battle shook the city, Nick passed broken buildings and burning cars. Soldiers and officers’ bodies were being dragged and kicked. Party officials hang from streetlights. The people cheered. The counter revolution had succeeded it seemed.
Nick fell asleep curled up in an empty shop, its shelves had been clear for months. He woke as the sun cast a light across the silent city. The revolutionaries slept in and the corpses did not wake. Nick strolled carefully looking for his wife.
More people emerged as the morning neared afternoon. Nick did his best to remain hidden, sharing drinks with civilians who likely wanted him dead. A lorry pulled up with a loudspeaker on its roof. It played the announcement that covered the air ways, a new government had been installed. The revolution was successful.
Nick slept in a sewer that night, he remained there for the following day. The next he found food in an old pantry, stale biscuits and sour milk. He hid from the roaming revolutionaries. Then he saw her, “Freda”. Nick called to her, a dirty blanket wrapped around him, his face dirty and his hair covered in muck.
She was with them, she was armed and looked at him. In his present state he looked like a vagrant.
“Nick, you look filthy” Freda did not embrace him.
“Yes, I know”
“Who is this?” A man with a white arm band flanked by other armed men approached Nick.
“He is my husband” Freda said.
“Then you must come with us” Nick was dragged to a lorry. He was bound and pushed along the hard wood seat. Alongside him he recognised a bald-headed officer and the Major. They were all tired looking. The lorry took them to a large building. The officers were led from it, armed men pushed them into a room. They were offered cigarettes. Nick did not smoke but he took one from a man in beret.
He began to cough as the smoke burned his throat. The major laughed along with one of the armed guards. The man in the beret patted Nick on the back.
“Like this” he then showed Nick how to properly smoke.
An hour passed; Nick did not speak. He felt the sickness experienced as one awaited their death. He was scared but he would not cry. He curled into himself and held his body tight. The room filled with armed men and an old General in military uniform.
“Comrades you will be re-instated to your former ranks and will become officers in the new government. If you refuse you can do so but will be tried. If you accept you will receive your pay and commission as it was previously.”
The officers stood up, they each looked around relieved at the news.
“We will need men like you to help ensure the revolution goes on. Loyal and obedient men, men who are capable to serve, to do what is needed are important. We need you all to resume your service. You are now working for the people.”
The next morning Nick let the shower wash over himself. It was cold and the water came in patches, but he felt relief. He rubbed his arm. The pain was not as bad. He had been told that he could go home that night after his first shift. He hoped that his wife would be there. He did not know what he would say to Freda. He felt excitement. It was over, things would be different now he breathed in optimistically.
Nick and the other officers sat in the old briefing room, there was as many new faces as old ones. They were to process criminals, interrogate them and afterwards. Nick followed the others, he walked down the concrete steps to the basement. He passed the wooden crates in the hall full of ammunition. The hoses were ready. It felt familiar and yet he felt sick. They reached the first basement, then kept walking, Nick sighed. They continued walking through the stomach of the building until they reached a factory floor outside. Rows of rifles were on the ground; Nick and the others were led to them.
The officer named Peter appeared, he was flanked by others wearing white arm bands.
“Take a rifle”
Nick lifted the heavy rifle and held it. A few moments later a large group of bound prisoners were led to a wall. Nick watched them as they were pushed up against the brickwork.
“You are all criminals of the people and will be treated as such” Peter said to the group.
“Detachment aim” Nick followed the others and raised the rifle to his shoulder, he pointed it at a sack covered man. He could only see the hands and legs.
Nick pulled the trigger his bullet punched a hole into the man’s chest. Officers dragged the bodies away. Another group was bought before them. They were covered in sacks, their faces hidden. They squirmed and begged.
“You are all criminals of the people and will be treated as such” Peter said loudly again.
Nick returned home after his shower. He walked the stairs to his apartment; Freda was there she hugged him. They kissed. His lips became numb from her contact. She had not kissed him like that in years.
“It is over” She smiled.
“You are now an officer for the people” She kissed him deep.
“Yes, I am.”
“This is it; it will be better now. It is like a dream. We are in a dream, no more nightmare” Freda poured some vodka into a glass for her husband.
“No one can know what you did in the past” Freda finished her glass before pouring another.
Nick nodded. “At least you will no longer have sore hands” Freda flirted.
Nick’s hands throbbed from the days work.
“Come to bed with me tonight husband, this is the revolution, the real revolution.”
They kissed, as husband and wife. Like they had years before. Nick lay in bed, his eyes open as Freda slept on his chest. Inside of his mind, “Detachment Aim” repeated over and over.
Breakfast was a piece of bread and potato. Freda ran her hands across his neck and face, kissing him often, “Good luck today, it is different now” she smiled kissing him one more time before he left for work.
Nick sat at his briefing, he listened as he would have weeks, months or years ago. He stood from his chair and followed the others out.
“Good job comrades, you are all helping create utopia”
Nick held the rifle, he aimed it. Then when he heard the order, he fired. His finger hurt. The pain throbbed up and through his arm. It was a familiar agony. Perhaps the weight of the rifle did not help either.
Kym Robinson, October 2020